James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

One nation, under surveillance

More than a year ago, my wife gave me a tee shirt that shows a pair of obviously hostile eyes over a line of type that says, “One Nation Under Surveillance.”

I wear it now and then in hot weather, and inevitably it draws looks and a rather surprising preponderance of knowing nods of agreement.

The truth of that tee shirt observation grows ever more obvious.

What may not be so obvious to many Americans –- especially younger Americans who tend to think that nothing important happened before they were born –- is the true purpose of the expanding White House-sponsored spying on U.S. citizens.

As were similar programs in Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, Pinochet's Chile and other repressive states, the aim is to produce fear, not gather intelligence. Those who read history don't need reference books to point to exact parallels.

Simply, there is nothing for the neocon imperialists or their surrogates in the FBI, CIA, DHS or any of the other initialed “intelligence” outfits to learn from taking photographs of antiwar demonstrators or infiltrating MoveOn and various veterans for peace organizations. Nothing useful by way of information, anyway. Anyone who thinks there is has never been involved in such an organization and probably gets all his/her news from Fox, Rush Limbaugh and other extreme right propagandists.

What such activity does, and what it is designed to do, is scare timid people -– and perhaps, as the pressure increases, not-so-timid people -– away from any public dissent from the policies of the Big Boss.


On March 19, my wife and I joined what may have been 200 other folks in a short antiwar demonstration on a bridge over the Mississippi River between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

When we arrived, an unmarked helicopter was hovering over the river a hundred yards or so south of the bridge, and there it stayed for more than an hour, occasionally cruising in a short circle to reposition itself when the day's brisk winds blew it somewhat out of position.

It was not a news helicopter – those are all marked large in our neck of the woods – and there would be no reason for news photographers to sit in one place for that long. The head-on position of the aircraft was wrong for shooting pictures anyway. You pretty much want to keep moving, if slowly, to get the best angles, the best shots. I've been on aerial news shoots, and friends and colleagues did them frequently. You rarely hover in one spot for more than three or four minutes.

An unmarked (black, no less) helicopter hovering for a substantial period of time near a gathering of people protesting a government stance or action says only one thing: government surveillance.

And, obviously, the purpose is intimidation.

If the people involved in putting that helicopter over that entirely peaceful demonstration had wanted photographs and names and such, they would have been on the bridge taking pictures and asking for names. They'd have got them.

For the most part, the same people have been participating in weekly protests in that location for more than five years now. Few, if any, care who knows that they are against our occupation of Iraq and against everything the Bush administration stands for.

Everyone on the bridge that day must have had the same thought about the helicopter; certainly those I heard comment on it did. It didn't frighten them.

But will there be a cumulative effect? As people in helicopters and people in deliberately obvious surveillance cars and guys dressed in outfits that fairly shout “FBI” keep protesters under angry eye and scribble pretend notes at event after event, will some of the less dedicated decide it's more prudent to stay away?

More importantly, will substantial numbers of people decide they'd better shut up about administration policies, the war and other edgy matters altogether?

Certainly it worked in all those authoritarian states I mentioned above.

Just as here, the surveillance in those places began small, gradually grew, with more “spies” obviously watching more people. And, as is now happening here, the word went out about telephone tapping and other listening techniques. As here, rumors suggested that there was more spying than there actually was. That was, and is, deliberate. You don't have to tap phones to shut people up if they think they may be tapped. It's cost effective as a silencer of anti-Boss opinions.

Combine that kind of intimidation with the occasional arrest of supposed or “suspected” enemies of the state, even if the suspects later are released, and you will scare a hell of a lot of people into silence and even cooperation. We've seen a few such arrests in this country, and so long as the neocons are in control, we can expect to see more, and then still more.

Folks, this stuff is right out of the 20th century dictators' playbook. It's used because it works.

The only effective counter action, aside from replacing the government leaders, is a firm refusal to be intimidated now. If the public slips away and hides in silence, the rulers gain so much power that eventually they really can't be opposed without fear of imprisonment or worse.